For most of us, training is a way to better ourselves, physically, mentally—sometimes even socially. But for a few, it's about something far bigger than one person. Nations are built and buried on the strength of their armed forces, and a country's military is only as strong as its weakest link.
For our men and women in uniform, training is a means to victory. It's about waking up each day better equipped to protect this country than the day before; to not be a weak link.
From the Army to the Coast Guard, the men and women of our nation's military are the fittest of the fit. You don't see them on magazine pages every month, and you may not see them in your gym. But they're working, all right—getting stronger every day, and making us stronger in the process. And for that, we salute our armed forces.
We Salute The Marines
Proudly touting the slogan "First to Fight," the Marines are the de facto first responders of the United States military, functioning almost as a second army that specializes in combat readiness for quick deployment by land, sea, and air. Some of the bloodiest battles in American history—including the Battle of Hue during the Vietnam War and the Second Battle of Fallujah during Operation Iraqi Freedom—were fought and won by Marines.
Being first to the battlefield, and having to pass through the notoriously brutal halls of the USMC boot camp in Parris Island, SC, gives Marines a well-deserved reputation as the toughest of America's fighting men and women.
Nobody embodies the "First to Fight" spirit like retired Marine Brian Stann, an Iraq war veteran and top contender in the UFC's middleweight division. Stann served two tours of duty in Iraq, earning a silver star during his second tour for successfully defending a bridge over the Euphrates River through a long and deadly battle with insurgents. It wasn't just tactical training that won the day, Stann says; weight training played a role, too.
"That's the reason the Marine Corps puts such a high demand on physical fitness," Stann says. "You cannot expect to endure days on end in extreme climates in a firefight if you aren't physically fit. But even more than staying in shape, my guys needed to train for their minds. They endure a lot of mentally difficult things. Being able to lift helps you recover from the rigors of combat."
"You don't need a proper weight room to work out," Stann says. The following routine is one of Stann's total-body workouts he performed three to four times per week while deployed. Perform two to three rounds; heavy bag work is done afterward.
We Salute The Navy
Our naval forces are older than our country itself. Officially formed on Oct. 13, 1775, the U.S. Navy has been a part of at least 10 major wars. Consider that 70 percent of the earth is covered in water, 80 percent of the population lives in or near coastal areas, and 90 percent of global commerce is still conducted by sea, and you could argue that the Navy is the most important branch of the military.
The Navy's most respected and elite division is the SEALs (Sea, Air, Land). Formed in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, the original SEAL Teams One and Two specialized in unconventional warfare and top-secret missions in maritime environments. Today, the SEALs are world-renowned for their heroism, ingenuity, and tremendous mental and physical toughness.
Apart from protecting our lives and our freedom, the SEALs have also managed to provide us with one of the hottest pieces of fitness equipment ever. The TRX Suspension Trainer was "an invention of necessity," according to Randy Hetrick, a 13-year SEAL veteran and assistant platoon commander who rigged the first TRX prototype together while deployed in Southeast Asia in the mid '90s.
"Guys were grousing about how they couldn't stay in shape. We were supposed to be deployed a couple of days, and it turned into weeks in the same place—a warehouse." Hetrick had accidentally stuffed his Jiu-Jitsu blue belt into his deployment kit, and using his SEAL resourcefulness, set to figuring out how to get a workout with it.
Hetrick grabbed some standard-issue tubular nylon webbing, tied a knot in the middle, and looped the belt through, forming the upside-down Y shape TRX users are familiar with today. He rigged it to a door, and a crude version of the product that is now on pace to earn $50 million this year alone was born. The TRX has since become individual issue in some units across the military.
SEAL TRX Training
Perform the following exercises as a circuit. Rest only as long between exercises as it takes to adjust the TRX. Then, rest one to two minutes.
- Squat Row to Y Flyes: AMRAP* in 60 sec.
- TRX Low Row: AMRAP in 60 sec.
- TRX Face Pull: AMRAP in 60 sec.
- TRX One-Arm Cable Curl: AMRAP in 60 sec. per arm
*As many rounds as possible.
We Salute The Army
No branch of any other nation's armed forces has the same cachet or commands the same level of respect as the United States Army. For one, it is an absolute leviathan. The Army is the main branch of the United States military; it's also the oldest and the largest. With more than 1.1 million soldiers in its ranks, stationed across 1,900 installations worldwide, the Army proves that there is strength in numbers. If the U.S. Army were a city, it would be the 10th largest in the country.
But numbers alone won't win a war, which is why soldiers receive training that is both varied and tailored specifically to combat scenarios, and at the core of their basic training are seven values that define both our soldiers and the nation they defend: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.
It's been almost seven years since infantry soldier Jason Pegg last served. While on tour in Afghanistan, an improvised explosive device and two rockets ripped through his Humvee, taking half his arm with it and forcing him to retire. But that didn't stop Pegg from pursuing powerlifting. Certain exercises, of course, are out of the question, but ask him to squat 1,000 pounds and watch in amazement.
Pegg started training back as an All-State football player going through boot camp. Once deployed, he found the hardest part of Afghanistan to be the elevation and the tough, mountainous terrain, through which he would spend hours carrying supplies. "Between water, machine gun ammo, mortar rounds, and batteries, there were times when there were well over 100 pounds on you, plus your weapon and equipment," Pegg says. "It sucked for everybody, but looking back, it sucked less for me." Pegg credits his strength training for making him more durable.
Each day begins with a compound lift—squat, deadlift, military press, or bench press—that alternates each week. On lower-body days, Pegg supersets the first and second exercises as well as the third and fourth.
We Salute The Air Force
Formed in 1907 as a subdivision of the Army, the United States Air Force became an autonomous branch of our nation's military in 1947, earning the right to govern itself after dominating the skies above Europe and Asia in World War II. Nowadays, it employs more than 200,000 people in a ready reserve role and operates more than 5,000 aircraft.
Before you can get into a plane (or even behind a desk), you need to pass a basic fitness test. Air Force hopefuls are subjected to a 1.5-mile run (60 points), a body-fat assessment (20 points), and pushups (10 points) and crunches (10 points) for time. A score of 90 or more earns you a patch recognizing your elite standing. Go lower than 75 and you could be denied promotions, or even have your ability to reenlist put under the microscope.
In a branch where most people assume you're either sitting in a plane or behind a desk, physical fitness has never been more important.
A firefighter in his spare time and a former Marine, Brent Burch's transition into pararescue seemed to be the most logical step in his military career. The only obstacle was his fitness. "I was really into bodybuilding in my younger years, and when I started doing the long runs to become a pararescueman, it just wasn't happening," he says. To change that, Burch cut out weightlifting for a year before he took the Physical Ability and Stamina Test, and focused on swimming, running, and calisthenics. It worked.
"I remember saying, 'Thank God I trained so hard,' " he says. "I was at a graduating level before I even started." Burch has to take the Air Force special operations command fitness test every year to maintain his status as a PJ. He's split his training cycle into four phases: cardio, lifting, CrossFit, and a grueling combination of the previous three for the final phase.
Perform all exercises of the same number as a superset. Do four sets, rest two minutes, then move on to the next number. For 1A and 2A, use 50, 60, 70, and 80% of your 1RM. For the first box jump, Burch jumps onto a 36-inch box while carrying a 25-pound sandbag; for the third box jump (3B), use the maximum height you can clear. For the lateral box jump, use a 12-inch box and ditch the sandbag.
We Salute The Coast Guard
With fewer than 42,000 men and women on active duty, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) is the smallest branch of the armed forces. It's also the most active. In a typical day, the Coast Guard responds to 64 search-and-rescue cases, inspects 68 containers, and screens 720 commercial vessels and 183,000 crew and passengers.
Year-round missions, which include scaling the sides of container vessels, executing rescue operations in brutal weather conditions, hauling distressed boaters onto rescue rafts, and chasing down drug runners at incredibly high speeds, keep Coast Guardsmen at the top of their game, both physically and mentally; and as their motto "Semper Paratus" (always ready) suggests, the Coast Guard can mobilize on a dime.
The moment that war is declared, the USCG flips into combat mode and switches to the authority of the Navy. And they're a welcome addition.
Lieutenant Joshua Vinci has scaled 100 feet up the side of a container vessel at sea in the middle of the night. He's pulled distressed boaters from a capsizing vessel onto a rescue raft at high speed. Right now, he's responsible for the entire coastline of South Carolina and Georgia. Through it all, he credits the mental toughness that the Coast Guard instilled in him as the key to his success, both on the job and in his personal life.
Vinci turned to fitness in 2008 after a neck injury left the entire left side of his body in atrophy. "My body surpassed the level it was at before, and that made me want to keep going," he says. Today, Vinci trains five times a week, even if he's out at sea. "You've just gotta make sure you're not in the gym during heavy seas," he says. "One minute the weight feels like it's zero gravity, and the next minute the roll comes back the other way, shifts the boat, and all of a sudden you're pushing a couple of hundred pounds by accident."
For the HIIT run, go 0.25 miles, hit eight reps of something explosive—like a clean and press—do 25 pushups, then repeat. Alternate between running in the hard and soft sand. Sprint the last quarter mile.